Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Evangelicals and the clarifying shock

Remember our long-running thread on the curious relationship between the evangelicals and the conservative movement?

[From 2015]

I grew up in the Bible Belt and spent all of my formative years arguing with fundamentalists so I feel comfortable with the following claim: in the past 40 years, the conservative movement has had a larger impact on the evangelical community than the evangelical community has had on the conservative movement. Obviously in these situations, influence always runs both ways, but the changes on one side have been greater and far more strategically useful. The very fact that we have an alliance between conservative Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons says volumes.

There have always been tensions inherent in this relationship and they have grown over the years. Fortunately for the leaders of the evangelical movement, the GOP has generally tried to minimize those tensions by picking acceptable candidates who, in turn, went out of their way to show respect to members of the religious right.

As he does in so many contexts, Donald Trump has thrown the long-standing conflicts and contradictions into stark relief.

Sarah Jones writing for the New Republic:

Among his hardcore fans, Trump will survive these scandals; his supporters are now making that clear to his detractors. But his pious boosters can’t count on the same. Trump’s principal appeal to voters is his devotion to capitalism, not God. The religious right, meanwhile, pins itself to a claim of moral superiority. It always had more to lose.

Some evangelicals, like the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore, understand this, and have publicly criticized Trump’s convenient conversion. But their voices were never enough to sway the rank-and-file. The religious right was never as unique as it wanted everyone to believe, and now Trump has revealed the movement’s superiority to be the ruse it’s always been.

The religious right isn’t dead yet. But after this election becomes history, the movement will be forced to reckon with the consequences of its quest for power. Young adults, who overwhelmingly oppose Trump, are already leaving conservative churches, and the religious right’s Trump moment will surely only fuel this trend. If it had maintained a consistent public morality, maybe it could have retained some countercultural appeal. Now that its most visible leaders have sacrificed that authority, it has nothing left.

The statements of Perkins et al may well be considered their movement’s suicide note. Who will now believe they care for the sanctity of so-called “traditional marriage?” They anointed an infamous philanderer their standard-bearer. And who will believe they oppose abortion because they care for women? They backed a man who thinks sexual assault makes a good joke. Generations will remember their support for one of the most publicly misogynist and racist presidential candidates in American history.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ tells his disciples that no one can serve two masters; you’ll be loyal to one and not to the other. By endorsing Trump, the religious right chose a master—and sacrificed everything it says it stands for.

Ed Kilgore writing for New York Magazine:

Describing the Christian right as a by-product of cultural panic rather than religious fidelity is not something that would have ever occurred to the older generation of conservative Evangelical leaders. And so it does not occur to them — in public, anyway — to doubt the calculations that brought them to the awkward position of supporting Donald Trump, a man who, aside from his crudeness and prejudice and history of sexual immorality, clearly and openly worships the golden calf of worldly success.

The intergenerational tensions among conservative Evangelicals likely won’t matter at all on November 8. But down the road, the experience of sacrificing their integrity for a failed presidential campaign may have an impact on Christian conservative leaders who haven’t already traded their birthright of independence for a mess of Republican Party pottage. As it happens, America’s largest conservative Evangelical faith community, the Southern Baptist Convention, is home both to Russell Moore and to Jerry Falwell Jr., heir to the “moral majority” mantle of his late father and Trump’s earliest and most stolid clerical supporter. The two men represent very different paths ahead for the people in the pews they represent.

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